Year Started: 1988
Ships in Fleet: 2
Summary: One of the best cruise lines in the world. Luxury food and service, great onboard enrichment, exemplary service. Larger than average luxury ships
With home offices based in Los Angeles, Crystal has long been a favorite of the well-heeled West Coast crowd (though actually a subsidiary of Tokyo-based NYK or Nippon Yusen Kaisha). Crystal Cruises is the luxury cruise line of choice for voyagers deep-pocketed enough to afford a luxury cruise, but gregarious and lively enough to crave a larger ship (by luxury standards) and lots of fellow passengers and a broad range of activities and facilities.
The company's 68,000-ton newest state-of-the-art luxury ship, Crystal Serenity, carries a mere 1080 passengers, boasting one of the highest space-to-passenger ratios in the cruise world. Intent on being even more popular than its predecessors Symphony and Harmony ( Harmony is no longer in service, leaving the fleet in November, 2005 to sail for parent company NYK as the Asuka II), Serenity is a 14-deck ship has three alternative restaurants among seven dining venues, two paddle tennis courts, a completely new learning center, and an enlarged computer center. Its boardroom has its own wine cellar and a special lounge for repeat passengers.
Crystal definitely has a feel of its own among the luxury vessels, and some people find it intoxicatingly addictive. The service is impeccable, and if anything it can tend to be almost too personalized for private types, but if you love being doted upon then Crystal has the highest guest-to-staff ratios at sea. There's a general atmosphere of what might be called California-ness aboard; everyone tends to be friendly, socially aware, politically correct and committed to personal growth.
Crystal focuses on image conscious, worldly passengers interested in self-knowledge and self-improvement. Even on the balmiest afternoon, far fewer of your fellow passengers are likely to be sunning themselves by the pool than inside listening attentively to a guest expert lecture about climate change, personal finance or jewelry.
Crystal is unique among luxury ships as the ships are larger than Silversea or Seabourn, but closer in size to Regent. Crystal, however, just upgraded its onboard policy to be more in line with other luxury cruise lines policies when it comes to what's included in the cruise fare. You no longer pay extra for beverages or gratuities - they are now all included in the cruise fare.
The service on Crystal is hard to beat with an all European staff, even for room stewards and waiters, they offer the crewmembers an impressive benefits package too assure a low turnover rate. The crew to guest ratio better than one to two, which is very impressive when you consider Royal Caribbean's ratio is more like four passengers to every crewmember.
The line innovated the first computer training program at sea as far back as 1999 (copied by many other cruise lines eventually). They called it "Computer University@Sea" and despite the fact the name made it appear web oriented, Internet access was actually a small component of what Crystal was doing with the program. This has now evolved into the "Creative Learning Institute" which features a dazzling array of onboard activities to stimulate your mind. Onboard lessons in playing piano, speaking foreign languages,acting, fashion design and a host of other possible topics await you onboard.
That said, bingo and the casino are still both popular. A former affiliation with Caesar's Casino in Las vegas to provide the onboard gaming has been replaced with inhouse management, but you will find a much more lavish casino on Crystal than you will on most cruise luxury cruise ships. Yes, it's smaller than Carnival, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. You can charge up to $300/day to your shipboard account for gaming. If you want a higher credit limit you can apply by downloading the form online.
Crystal's floor shows are always rated as tops in the luxury sector. That isn't saying much since the luxury lines generally do not focus on production shows, but Crystals are the exception. They can't compete with Carnival's huge stage, effects and assemblage of talent, but the shows are clever.
Because Crystal's passengers generally prefer to stay aboard and attend lectures and computer classes, Crystal seems to call in relatively fewer ports per cruise than many other cruise lines. For example, the 10-day May 31, 2007 Mediterranean cruise on Symphony, only stops at four ports (one for 2 days), while a comparable luxury line known for port-intensity on a 10-day, May 27, 2007 Mediterranean cruise stops at nine (including two in one day).
But when Crystal does make a stop, they make a splash. The line is now known for some of the most outrageous shore excursions available anywhere. Take a brand new factory Porsche for a test drive at the assembly plant in Liepzig, Germany. Not fast enough for you? How about flying a Russian MIG fighter jet? In addition, they offer "private adventures" for people who want something special all to themselves. These are customized tour experiences which you dream up yourself. You just give Crystal the details and they make the arrangements for you.
Obviously, being aboard a Crystal ship is being in the lap of luxury, and it is for people who appreciate that more than the world travel. The company has introduced a whole raft of passenger-pleasing new policies in recent years, none more popular than its Reserve Wine List of 20 rare and much-sought-after vintages. Special dinners were conceived around particular wines and champagnes. Crystal may have introduced alternative, "boutique" restaurants, but assigned dining at one of two seatings remains the rule in the main restaurant.
Mostly widely-traveled, well-heeled sixty-somethings from California who almost invariably "look great for their age" whatever that age may be. The line also attracts a fair number of relatively younger (40s-50s) singles attracted by the line's single supplement program, usually more women than men single travelers, so the line often has gentlemen hosts aboard.
Smoking will no longer be allowed in Starlite Club (aboard Crystal Symphony) and on verandahs of all staterooms and Suites aboard both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. Please be advised that select public areas, especially bars and lounges, will still permit smoking in certain areas.Shore Excursions
Crystal's attractively priced and well-organized shore excursions can be reserved in advance; just download the form from www.crystalcruises.com and fax or mail it in. Onboard, a Land Program Specialist can work up a personalized itinerary for those who prefer to set off on their own. Some of the excursions are extraordinary such as a hot air balloon ride over Ireland. In keeping with the California media-based clientele, there is a tour of Rome showcasing the key symbols and landmarks in Dan Brown's best-selling book Angels & Demons.Kid's Excursions
As far as youngsters are concerned, Crystal is the most welcoming of the high-end lines. Each ship has a dedicated playroom, and a Junior Activities counselor is present on any cruise with ten or more children aboard. There are Junior Activities counselors aboard any Crystal cruise where 10 or more children are booked. Children's play rooms are well equipped and the "Surf Runner," children's newsletter details scheduled activities.Past Passenger Programs
Crystal's passengers are the most loyal in the industry, and the line makes its appreciation apparent. Crystal Society members receive special discounts on select cruises, including reservations made during a cruise, and enjoy special onboard parties and photo sessions with the Captain. They're sent the Society's newsletter, and granted priority check-in. Once aboard, they enjoy in-cabin wine and flowers. The line also offers a Milestone-level rewards and recognition program.
The Crystal Society offers $100 shipboard credit for each new-to-Crystal guest you bring with you (maximum $400 per year), while they will receive $100 shipboard credit for themselves. Benefits go up as you accumulate more cruises, including higher shipboard credits and free upgrades with every 10 additional cruises. Take 100 cruises and you will get a free cruise in the Crystal Penthouse. of course, by them you will have spent about $1,000,000 with the cruise line, so you deserve it!Theme Cruises
Crystal specializes in integrating destinations and shore excursions into theme-based adventures. About half of Crystal's sailings are themed, including 16 Wine & Food Festival cruises. There are also occasional music-theme cruises with big bands and jazz singers, and such cruises usually involves going to special events on shore in keeping with the theme of the cruise. On other cruises, you can learn to play the stock market more shrewdly, study a language, or gain an increased appreciation for various sorts of art. More themed cruises include mind and body cruises, Jazz cruises, film amd theater festivals and arts and antiques cruises.Tipping
Unlike most luxury cruise lines, Crystal also does not include Gratuities in its cruise fare. Suggested guidelines for stateroom and dining service gratuities are as follows: stewardess, $5 per guest, per day (single travelers, $6 per day); senior waiter, $5 per guest, per day; waiter, $3 per guest, per day; butler (Penthouse Decks), $4 per guest, per day.
The servers in specialty restaurants Prego, Jade Garden, Silk Road and The Sushi Bar all expect $7.00 per person per dinner.
All bar drinks and wines automatically get a 15 percent gratuity added. A similar gratuity is recommended for Salon and Spa services. Tip the maitre d', headwaiter, assistant stewardess and night Room Service at your discretion.